The Brain-Computer interface allows people with paralysis to control Tablet devices
Tablets and other mobile computerized devices are part of everyday life, but their use may be difficult for people with paralysis. New research from the BrainGate * consortium shows that a brain-to-computer interface (BCI) can allow people with paralysis to directly operate a tablet device on the shelf, just thinking about cursor movements and clicks.
In a study published on Nov. 21 in PLOS ONE, three participants in triplex trials, each of whom using BrainGate BCI experimentally recording neural activity directly from a small sensor placed in the motor cortex, could navigate through tablet programs commonly used, including e-mail, chat, music streaming and video-sharing applications. Participants discussed with family, friends, research team members and their colleagues. They surf the internet, check the weather and buy online. A participant, a musician, sang a piece of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" on a piano digital interface.
"For years, BrainGate has been working to develop neuro-science and neuro-engineering know-how to enable people who have lost their motor skills to control external devices just by thinking of moving their own arm or hand" , said Dr. Jaimie Henderson, a senior author of the paper and a neurosurgeon at Stanford University. "In this study, we capitalized on this know-how to restore people's ability to control exactly the same day-to-day technologies they used before triggering their illnesses." It was great to see the participants express or find just one song they want to hear. "
The BrainGate Experimental BCI includes a child-size aspirin implant that detects signals associated with intentional movements produced in the brain's cortical motor. These signals are then decoded and directed to external devices. BrainGate researchers and other groups using similar technologies have shown that the device can allow people to move their robotic arms or regain control of their own members despite having lost their motor skills from illness or injury. This collaborative study includes Brown University's scientists, engineers and physicians, Carney Institute for Brain Science, Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center (PVAMC), Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Stanford University.
Two of the participants in this last study had a weakness or loss of arm and leg movement due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive disease that affects the nerves in the brain and the spine that moves control. The third participant was paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury. All were enrolled in a clinical trial aimed at assessing the safety and feasibility of the BrainGate experimental system.
For this study, neural signals from BrainGate BCI were routed to a Bluetooth interface configured to function as a wireless mouse. The virtual mouse was then paired with a non-modified Google Nexus 9 tablet. The participants were then asked to perform a set of tasks designed to see how well they could navigate in a variety of commonly used applications and move from application to application. The participants navigated through music selections on a streaming service, searched YouTube videos, navigated through a news aggregator, and composed emails and chats.
The study showed that participants were able to make up to 22 point and click selections per minute while using a variety of applications. In text applications, participants were able to input up to 30 effective characters per minute using standard email and text interfaces.
Participants reported finding an intuitive and fun interface for use, the study said. One said, "It was more natural than the time I remember using a mouse." Another reported had "more control over this than what they normally use."
The researchers were excited to see how quickly participants used the tablet interface to explore their hobbies and interests.
"It was wonderful to see our participants go through the tasks we asked them to do, but the most enjoyable and fun part of the study was when they did what they wanted to do – using the applications they had like shopping, watching videos or just chatting with friends, "said lead author Paul Nuyujukian, bioengineer at Stanford. "One of the participants told us at the beginning of the process that one of the things they really wanted to do was play music, so to see her game on a digital keyboard was fantastic."
The fact that compressed devices were completely unaltered and deactivated all preloaded accessibility programs was an important part of the study, the researchers said.
"Assistive technologies available today, while important and useful, are inherently limited in terms of both the speed of use they use and the flexibility of the interface," said Krishna Shenoy, lead author of the paper and an electrical engineer and neurologist at Stanford University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "This is largely due to the limited input signals that are available. With the richness of the input from BCI, we managed to buy just two tablets on Amazon, to start Bluetooth and the participants could use them with the BrainGate experimental system from the box.
Researchers say the study also has the potential to open new important communication lines between patients with severe neurological deficits and their healthcare providers.
"This has great potential for restoring reliable, fast and rich communication to someone with blocked syndrome who is not able to talk," said Jose Albites Sanabria, who conducted this research as a graduate student of biomedical engineering at Brown University. This not only could provide increased interaction with family and friends but can provide a way to better describe ongoing health issues with caregivers.
As neuroscientist and neurotic critical care practitioner, lead author Leigh Hochberg of Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital and VA Providence Medical Center sees a tremendous potential for BCI's restoration capabilities exemplified in this study.
"When I see someone in the neuro-intensive care unit who has suffered an acute stroke and lost the ability to move or communicate, I would like to say that I am very sorry it happened, but we can restore you the ability to use the technologies you use before that, and you will be able to use them again tomorrow, "Hochberg said. "And we're getting closer to being able to tell someone who has been diagnosed with ALS," even if we continue to look for a remedy, you'll never lose the ability to communicate. "This work is a step towards these goals."
Other authors in the newspaper were Jad Saab, Chethan Pandarinath, Beata Jarosiewicz, Christine Blabe, Brian Franco, Stephen Mernoff, Emad Eskandar and John Simeral.
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